Servant Leadership

Essay by Gido_vsUniversity, Master'sB, March 2007

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Authentic, ethical leaders, those whom we trust and want to follow, are servants first. This is the core idea of servant leadership, which is a phrase coined and defined in a 1970 essay by Robert Greenleaf. A servant-leader stands in sharp contrast to the person who wants to be a leader first and then after clawing his or her way to the top, decides to perform acts of service. To build a more caring society, organizations and their trustees can, and should, also function as servants (Greenleaf). Servant Leadership is one of the most talked about yet least critically examined leadership philosophies.

Greenleaf was captivated by the idea of a servant actually being the leader. Greenleaf was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1904. Greenleaf spent most of his organizational life in the field of management research, development, and education at AT&T ( Following a 40-year career at AT&T, Greenleaf enjoyed a second career that lasted 25 years, during which time he served as an influential consultant to a number of major institutions, including Ohio University, MIT, the Ford Foundation, the R.

K. Mellon Foundation, the Mead Corporation, the American Foundation for Management Research, and the Lilly Endowment. In 1964 Greenleaf also founded the Center for Applied Ethics, which was renamed the Robert K. Greenleaf Center in 1985 and is now headquartered in Indianapolis (Greenleaf).

The idea of the servant being a leader came somewhat out of Greenleaf's experience in working to shape large institutions. However, the event that sparked Greenleaf 's thinking came in the 1960s, after he had read Hermann Hesse's short novel Journey to the East an account of a mythical journey by a group of people on a spiritual quest. After reading this story, Greenleaf concluded that its central meaning was that the great leader is...